When medications make their way through the human body, they encounter different organs before finally being released in the bloodstream. While the process may sound straightforward, different drugs dissolve at different rates, different formulas, and dosages breakdown differently – and, everybody’s body metabolizes medication uniquely. These are just a few of the many complexities behind the nature of drug absorption and metabolism.
How does medication enter the bloodstream?
The vast majority of medications are taken orally and are broken down within the gastrointestinal tract. Once the medication arrives, it is broken down by stomach acids before it passes through the liver and then enters the bloodstream. Certain medications may stay in the bloodstream longer – it all depends on the dosage and drug family consumed.
What factors influence medication absorption?
There are several factors at play when determining the overall time required for medication to fully digest. The following factors all impact an individual’s sensitivity to and absorption of medication:
Time of day taken
Level of physical activity
Level of stress
Content of stomach and PH level
Presence of other medications
Gastric acids may prevent or slow the breakdown of certain medications. Additionally, when a medication is metabolized in the liver, its potency will decrease along with its effectiveness before the therapeutic reaches the bloodstream.
According to Merck, in order “to be absorbed, a drug given orally must survive encounters with low pH and numerous GI secretions, including potentially degrading enzymes.” This research exemplifies the reasoning behind doctor’s common orders to take a medication with a full stomach. There is science behind the reason why it’s advisable to follow his or her orders.
How long does it take for the body to absorb medication?
The method of drug consumption affects the rate at which the medicine travels throughout the bloodstream. The solubility of the medication also affects how long it will take for the medication to dissolve. In general, it typically takes approximately 30 minutes for most medications to dissolve.
When a medication is coated in a special coating – which may help protect the drug from stomach acids – often times it may take longer for the therapeutic to reach the bloodstream. For example, an aspirin may dissolve in a matter of minutes, while gel caps may take much longer, due to their gel coating. These pills may also be easier to swallow, so it is important to weigh the pros and cons of different medications.
How is medication administered?
A tablet, capsule or syrup taken orally
Tablets or pills dissolved sub-lingual
Medication Inhaled or droplets administered to eyes, ears, nose or throat
Injection via IV or intravenously in a vein
As a patch or gel applied to the skin
Certain medication forms are associated with more potent medications. For example, intravenous medications may be more potent than capsule. A sublingual tablet typically moves more quickly through the circulatory system, and is thus rapidly metabolized. The same is true of rectal medications, where a significant number of blood vessels are present.